Thursday, July 27, 2017

USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships - Snowshoe, WV


USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships - Snowshoe, WV - July 18-23



Since I just freshly come back from Andorra without having to do much other preparation I felt ready for this race. Last year I placed second in this event in California and I was full of hopes to make it even better and finally stamp my cross-country racing journey with a win. Other racing as endurance events come for me much easier, but those short cross-country efforts always cause me more trouble and make me feel slightly like a fish out of water. So even though it’s not my best game I still want to do good in it and I’m trying to put myself in this not so comfortable for my body and mind territory. Possibly it’s just the other way of challenging myself or torturing myself, depending how you look.



We didn’t have much time to spare on this trip and headed out quite late, Wednesday night after work. It made for after sunset flight in rainy and full of thunderstorms Floridian evening weather. It was quite creepy and dark, lightning was burning out in fire gold and white colors on each side of the plane. We drove partially toward the race site that night and the rest following morning.



It was a very neat view to arrive on top of the mountain and have the championship start line and race shoot going right through the middle of the ski village where the lifts stop and cannot go any further. But we still had to build my bike, grab something to eat and get ready for my only practice ride. Sadly, race organizers didn’t assure that everyone will get ample amount of practice and only slot available for my racing class was from 6:30 to 7:30 pm which also overlapped race meeting. Gosh, someone questioned that decision and was told to make a choice one or the other. There was no brainer for me I had to get out and see as much of the course as I can. People had such mixed opinions of it that I started getting kind of sick listening to everyone having completely opposite story of what it was really like. I just wanted to get out there and was getting pretty anxious.



It rained the day before as for what I was told, but now was beautiful and sunny out. The course ended up to be quite dry and only slippery and wet in some more dense areas.

From the start, there was mostly doubletrack leading from the village and dropping down alongside the chairlift, soon after it went on the even faster and fun single track decent which was super short, probably no more than 30 seconds and after that continued on the double track climb which culminated with the steep part, road and the decent to the most unpleasant single-track section of the whole course. It was the trail called Fingers and felt like eternity, I cannot tell what it was, it had no flow, no speed, just tons of roots filling out the mossy and dense forest with trees just being closely scattered on our path. There were multiple lines one can say or simply no lines, it was bumpy and it was impossible to get any rhythm through this section. Toward the end this trail started heading downwards with few moist and root filled turns, afar that it spilled to another double track climb.



Whole course consisted of pretty much that, open climbs, mostly open descents and two rather tough single-track sections because of its rugged profile and no flow. There was this one fantastic section where we would drop in to the part of the DH course and have few big berms and roller coaster like riding. There were rocks of course on this part too but I don’t think it mattered at that point, everyone probably was so thrilled to hit actually enjoyable single track at full speed.

Then came the final big open climb, it started more mellow and in the final part got steeper. It culminated with a U turn and dropped into the rockiest section of the race course. It started off pretty good with little drop in into the river of rocks, the momentum here really helps and makes it not so bad even on the hard tail. Shortly it flattens out however, starts getting more twisty, more rugged and has some roots also filling out the space. Now things become trickier. I had one little crash here on my pre-ride but nothing too big. With my quite strong dislike to the rock gardens for some reasons I felt quite content, capable and not too bothered by this ridiculously bumpy terrain. It was pretty much like riding on the bottom of the river and I’m sure anyone who did come from where I come from would not call it a mountain biking or anything that we are used to. But it was what it was, ocean or river of rocks and we had to deal with it either we liked it or not. After that was final climb out, fast open section over the bridge and back to the center of the village through the starting shoot. I was happy I covered the whole course with no issues and was comfortable with what was out there.



Comfortable doesn’t mean however super-fast or national champion worthy fast, but maybe just enough fast. Those two parts of the course just felt too bumpy and too slow for me and I didn’t feel like there was much I could do about it. I was quite aware that there will be plenty of riders who can get through such a terrain with more speed. I would lie if I said I liked the course, still looking back now I think it was weird. When I jumped in quickly on the second lap it was getting really dark in the rooty forest, I could see low and golden sun rays sneaking there through the trees. It maybe would be pretty if I wasn’t there now by myself. It was getting really dark now and it was uncomfortable to be stuck there for a long time alone. I was glad to be out finally and finish my ride. I have quick few minutes to give a shot to the man-made rock garden too and it was not all that bad after all. But it was for sure place where people gathered and it did receive a lot of attention. But as the rest of the course it was little out of place and awkward.

So, the race was already the next morning, early morning, 8 am start which meant I will not get much rest nor sleep. 5 am wake up and we are heading to the race site, the thick white fog covers the whole mountain. When I attempted to do my warm up it started to rain. I got quick few minutes in and I was already all wet. Now it was a waiting game. Few minutes before the planned start we were told we will be delayed by 5 minutes, then by 10 and 15. We kept on waiting now under the tents in the cool wind, lightning and rain. Toward the end of this long wait when we were all shivering we finally were told to move to the indoor warm room. We stayed there for very short time since the news did come that we were set to go and were asked to report to the start line. Everything was wet now; the course was not going to be anything like what I rode yesterday. Our race was shortened from 3 laps to only 2 also. It was going to be short and messy ride. Everything drastically changed.



So here we go after all the rain and lightning, an hour delay, waiting drenched already in the fog and rain to start my race we were finally off. I actually had an awesome start, got the hole shot, lead for the longest time through the fast parts, dived bravely into the first foggy descent, I felt like I could fly. Realizing how foggy it actually was and how unfamiliar I am with this course made me wonder for split second if I should be going actually first. But if felt so good. Girls it seemed could not keep up with me. It was super fun descending to the little single track that lasted for some 30 seconds full speed with little humps and a mini bridge. Soon I was spilled to the fist gradual climb which did pitch up toward the end. This is where my battle with the third girl took place, we went few times back and forth on this ascent and later on the slow rooty section. I was happy to hold my spot and get into the rooty single track first. I felt things may stay good for me but sometimes later not even third way in the second girl catch up with me and passed me like I was standing still. She seemed to roll so much smoother than me through those slippery roots.



This trail which was filled with gazillion slippery roots was the most annoying part of the whole race to me. This is not only where I lost my lead but also felt the most helpless. I rode but I cannot tell I raced. I felt like here everyone was on their own just trying to get through, no speed, no flow, no grip, just dancing around on my bike, placing the wheel as carefully as one can and letting the other one slide in kind of where it wanted to.



There was no way to speed up and do much here but grind the teeth and look forward getting out of there. I felt I was trapped on the repeat loop, this thing seemed to have no end. On the straight away finally I regained myself but I was not the same anymore, something internally changed and I could feel it. I pushed but I was not as focused as I was before, I didn’t have my wings as I did when I entered that slow trail. On the steep climb, I finally caught the girl that passed before on the slow section. I loved all the cheering that I got from the crowd and our Floridian friends. That helped and gave me much needed boost. Now I was going to reach some fun sections or section, let’s not be too excited here, there was one part only of Dh trail that we raced on that was actually great. It was full of flow, berms, toll roller coaster like fast humps and some rocks. I liked it. This was the most favorite part of the whole course for all of us no doubt. Too bad it lasted for mere minute and we were back on the rest of the course. After that was the biggest open climb that probably gave lots of trouble to most and especially those that did come here from the flatter part of the world. I was pretty OK here and didn’t mind the climb.



My first place was way ahead now however and I was faced with the never ending wet riverbed like, crazy rocky section. Getting through it was much more difficult today when wet then yesterday. Even though in dry it was already quite unusual experience and I did not consider this section a trail, it was something out of ordinary and little more out there to what we consider an actual bike trail.



In no time, I had only one lap to go since we got reduced to only two laps. On the second lap, I felt smoother and tackled the roots in somewhat better manner. I got even complement that I was so far looking the fastest of all on this section, but I knew that that was completely not true. I knew that girl that I was chasing was even faster. I somehow managed to get my gap to first place down from 1.5 minutes to 45 seconds and am most certain I had her just ahead on top of the final steep climb with even less time in between. I was making my time up and getting closer, she was right there and I felt for a while that I had a chance. But then way too quickly came the rocks section once again and I lost more time there. I put an effort but it was too little too late. Wished I had one more lap that was taken away from us. I finished second and I was full minute back.


Train of thoughts kept going through wondering what could I have done differently. I feel probably a lot and this hurts the most, I raced well but should have done better, don't feel I raced to my full potential.

I had good time however and experienced some thrill of jetting down nasty rocks and learning more and more to trust my bike and mostly trust myself. It was a great feeling to be in the lead and dive down to the foggy descents and let my bike dance around the slimy roots and rocks that filled this forest. It was and will be an experience that hopefully will fuel me to push even more, dig little deeper and keep me motivated to put obstacles in my way so I can challenge myself even more. I hope it will only lead me to higher heights.



Huge thank you to my Pax for being by my side and believing in me so much, and to my wonderful sponsors who make sure I have the best components during my training and competition. I was shocked how this little pony of mine performed well on such a rugged course and in quite rough conditions.



Also loved seeing out there so many Floridians! It was fun to share this experience with you all!

Silver Medal at MTB XC Nationals once again. The experience from Snowshoe is rather bittersweet. I felt it was my win to take but I feel one-minute short to achieve what I came here for.

Seems that it's what West Virginia was exactly about! It was a wild terrain for a wild soul. I was sipping on my tea in the WV cup while enjoying the scenery, the cup finally made it to its home after owning it for many years. It was all not easy here but challenges in our way and good friends around is what makes us stronger. Florida for sure made a stamp here and we will be back for more! It was a super short trip for us but very enjoyable.

Let's never change and keep on chasing those windmills!

Special Thanks go to:

City Bikes, Castelli, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, XpedoGarden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, EVOC, Oakley, Pocketfinder, KMC Chains, Rotor Bike Components, K-Edge, Squirt Lube, SelleSMP and for 2017 - Trek and CeramicSpeed

Until next time!

UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - Vallnord, Andorra


UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - Vallnord, Andorra, Jun 21st 

6th place finish


Andorra

What a trip, what a week, what an adventure!

I am completely in love with Andorra! Yes, the mountains here are steep as hell and give you no warm up even for your mind, but that’s the fascinating thing about them! They just go straight up from your hotel room up to the sky with no shame. There is no gradual approach to things here, everything is kind of on the very real part of life, no makeup, no delusions, things are just the way they are and I completely love it that way!

Myself and my Pax spent more than fabulous week in Andorra. Absorbed by the beauty of the mountains, we lived through the training and racing here, soaked up the scenery and explored it as much as we could. Probably it was one of the best and most meaningful trips we ever had, where I feel we both dug into what this whole area was about. We rode for fun, we rode performance, we rode for training, we watched others race, we climbed the mountains, we smelled the flowers and submerged our bodies in the frigid cold mountain streams. My soul was so complete there I cannot explain. We were never in our room even though it was beautiful. We would have splendid breakfast full of fresh baked good, fruits, cheese, freshly brewed coffee (and I don’t even drink coffee) and we would be out and about, exploring, exploring and exploring some more. We would come back just to shower off and head back out for dinner. That was a good life and best part was just being out there all day long every day no matter what was going on, who was racing, if it was sunny or it was throwing rocks out of the sky. We experienced it all and we loved it!

People in Andorra are awesome too, not only all the racers, the people that I met year before in Italy, all the new friends that I made here but also the race stuff was great! We experienced only the most kindness from anyone we had pleasure to spend the time with.

And the mountains, I miss already this steep never ending climb and descent so much every day. To be honest it had been so hard now to find desire to get out and bike on my local trails, yes, they are fun, yes, they are technical, there is a lot of yesses going on and even more hard work put by volunteers, those trails did turn a regular girl into a mountain biker after all but, but something is missing. This raw nature of high mountains and being able to just climb up or practice descending and having a wind in your hair any time you wish is all that is missing. And also, the temperatures at least in those summer months were great. This is I feel my new home away from home… I simply never wanted this trip to end.

Usually we would leave home right after my race but not this time was different. We stayed around for quite a few days longer and those were the best days ever that I can recall. I have been living life on a go since I remember, really since I was just a little girl. But finally, I got this tiny break where I don’t have to be anywhere, do anything, this little moment in space where I can just be. It felt wonderful… It was not completely by choice but it worked out for the best, I could not stop myself from wanting to explore this new territory more and more every day. My soul had been made for adventures, for excitement, for the unknowns, this is what drives me every day and what I am living for and looking forward too. I’m glad I was able to experience it this time and feed my senses and the hungry spirit. Everyday life is not easy and escapes like this don’t come often, but when they do they are full of bliss.



The course. The course is awesome. It’s not a little easy peasy thing by any means, it’s hard, it’s always technical, it’s always up or down, it has lots of single track and you are being consistently challenged and pushed to the limit while still having fun. The climbs are tough, most of the climbing in single track is technical, all of it is highly exhausting since the altitude, steepness and natural elements. All the descending is tricky, tough and requires lots of open mind and commitment. You are at all times on the edge, gasping for air and at the apex of excitement.  The initial climb from the start will wind you up, the rooty technical climb to the rock garden will make sure your legs feel like noodles by the time you get there, then the rooty and rocky approach to the rock garden when you just have to go will test your commitment, you will have to pick best line and trust in your abilities. Then comes the steep, narrow, dh part of the course called the rampage, super fun but really rough, especially when wet. Everything is on the angle here and all roots are off camber. Then comes the soul sucking red zone climb, nothing more to do here but put your head down, grind your teeth and keep of spinning. There is so much to this course throughout, steep drops (or roll downs as Emily batty calls them), more steep climbs, super-fast descends in the massive berm setting, the NASA bridge and super-fast section right before finish. This is pretty brilliant course but to ride if well and ride it fast you got to be amazingly well rounded and skilled. That’s why the world’s best gather here and show up on the start line! This is no joke, everyone is a champion here and it’s not like medals for everyone crew. We have champions and best of their countries and one of the best in the world in what they do. Everyone is fast here and it makes it for heck of the race!

Race

After the most beautiful, almost hot and sunny morning the day before my race we had front roll in with torrential rain at first which turned into the hail storm of epic proportion. It hailed for so long and so hard that course flooded instantly and all the exposed areas of it were covered with masses of cold, white piles of massive hail. Therefore, the men’s afternoon race had been postponed until the next morning. Which meant those guys will be racing right before my race. Because of the whole extreme weather, we were trapped on the mountain for the longest time and could not take gondola down to go back to the hotel and get warm again. We were simply freezing for the longest time. The weather is quite unpredictable out here and ever changing and next time I will remember to carry with myself the layers of clothing rather than leaving it back in the car or even hotel!



When I got to the race site the following day it was beautiful and sunny again with the bluest, picture perfect sky. But the course was still wet from the massive storm day before. When I got out on the part of the course for few minutes my front tire slid on the bed of wet roots and I hit myself so hard in my knee that it swelled up on the instance.



I ended up sitting before my race with the ice pack on it for the longest time in hopes for the swelling to go down. The staging that took place very soon got me little nervous, since each time they read out the next person and then the next one, it was still not me. Finally, I got last spot in the first line, which was really not accurate since I placed 4th last year but the order of lineup was based on the different parameters this time.



Standing there was slightly nerve-racking but it all went away when they finally send us off!




Short asphalt sprint and we went to the small descent with a turn. I didn’t have the best start and was somewhere mid pack. And now the grassy climb was ahead of us, this is where the suffering begins and will not end until the whole race is over. It was hard, but no one said it was going to be easy. I was not in the position I wanted to be and honestly the altitude and fatigue almost completely let me lose track. I regained some clarity on the top and started assessing the situation, I made it to the top of rock garden through the slippery roots and it was quite awesome since those are really tough sections. I had little traffic on the rock garden but all got cleared nicely as well as the whole rampage section.



In the red zone, of course we all suffered but I felt pretty ok here, well at least on first two laps. With all the grinding that had to be done here I managed nice passes on people from my class and whomever else was there around at that time. It felt bad but felt good too; if it makes any sense to anyone. The roll downs or drops required some courage from me and I had to really focus and clear my mind to commit to some of them. The rest of the climbs and fast descents were really great. But it’s such a different filling to do it in the race, it’s just so much harder! On the drop that I really disliked toward the end of the first lap, very young and fast racer was down, she was right on the bottom of it being pulled on the stretcher out of everyone’s way. What was super lose and dry just day before now was pretty saturated, the whole thing changed to totally different course. And as weather man predicted (by the way all the weather predictions were to the tee!) it started to rain on my second lap, changing the conditions even more so. I found myself every lap picking completely different lines just to make it through. I was very proud of myself how I was handling it and finding my way through this ever evolving and difficult track. I pushed my mind and my body pretty far and was holding now solid fifth position for the full second and first half of the final lap. After I cleared rock garden I looked back and saw only one person further behind who I passed before and she was not even from my class. I felt pretty safe with my spot and assumed that would be my finishing stand. But things were so much different now on this last lap, it was even more slippery, the rain penetrated through the pine trees and covered all the off-camber roots on this steep descent. My front tire gave up on me few times on those icy roots, I was losing traction and losing confidence in myself at the same time. I should have trusted myself more but I didn’t. I started feeling like I will slip now on every off-camber root I see and every drop and the whole trail was covered in that and only that, there was nothing more to it. I didn’t ride here as well as I should have or was capable of, I felt like I was wasting too much time. And I did indeed, by the time I was about to exit and hit the red zone climb once again I heard noise behind me. It was Meghan from Australia who did catch up with me. It was not long in when she did position herself side by side with me and soon after pulled and climbed away. I didn’t have much more to add to it, I was already tired, breathing hard, spinning on my last gear and it all looked pretty slow and miserable. I didn’t know about it then but my seat post somehow went down and I ended up sitting lower than I should. This probably didn’t make it any easier on me too. Also, the climb which is full of little, flat wet now rock was not the easiest to cover, considering its grade and how long it continues for. All and all I was in sixth now and there was not much more I could do about it. I rode as good and as fast as I was capable of on the second half of the lap, but I was not getting any time back, she got away too far and I had to settle for sixth.



That was the shortest and one of the hardest races I had to ever race in. In the blink of an eye it was all over. Now all I had was to reflect, look back, reassess, be happy about all the good that took place and remember the things that I still have to work on and that I could change if I had another opportunity like that.



Quite few things went wrong and were off and did affect my race. One was spending three out of four nights pretty much with no sleeping. One of them was of course our crazy long travel to get to Andorra with crazy flight delays and all the extra fun that comes with traveling that far. Two, first time in my life I forgot my clif drink for that only particular day and was racing just on plain water alone. I was bummed because of it but of course I still had clif gels on me which I could rely on but that was a big loss not to have the proper drink. Three, the seat post sliding down occurrence was just more than annoying and I cannot even tell when this happened and if I did most of my race if not whole, with my saddle way too low. Four, the rain, this for sure messed up everything that I knew about this course from the prior days.



It’s crazy how all the training, dreaming, planning, all the preparations and wondering, everything that takes weeks, months and years was just summed up in this short little over an hour race!

That’s a lot to process and also to understand that the smallest decision or incidence on the course will have quite a big impact on the end result. In long distance racing things can be corrected since there is so much time to fix any mistakes, here whatever happened here, happened rather quickly and took just enough out that it cannot be undone most of the time. Every detail is crucial and you are on the end of your limits and pushing yourself even beyond them. This makes things even that much harder.

And there was silence. The air, the mountains around, and the excitement was now long gone.

It was time to step out, forget about wants and musts and look around instead and enjoy time that we have to ourselves and start to do things that feed our senses.

So, we did it. We did some epic riding, climbing, descending, cheering, hiking, sightseeing. We spent some good time with new friends, got to love those awesome Ozie’s! We arranged the most incredible hiking that I had chance to do in many years which took us some eight hours to complete to highest peak in Andorra, Coma Pedrosa. The views were completely sick and the day filled with so much hard work but also so much pure joy!

It was great to do the climb with my Pax and Meghan who become my good friend after she overtook me on this never to be forgotten climb and took the fifth spot. It was pleasure to meet people outside of the race site. I loved all Australian crew, and especially >>> who I spent some great time riding with. I am grateful for the company, advise and patience on those beautiful trails.

Downhill tracks here are awesome too and I’m happy I had a chance to get out and ride them even thought I was on my little hard tail bike! Noting can beat thirty plus minutes of pure descending. It was quite brilliant experience and I would not miss it for anything!

I am so grateful to be able to live through such an adventure and share it with my Pax.

From witnessing this course on the TV first time, seeing pros racing it on the UCI world cup circuit, to dreaming about it, preparing for it, racing finally here and just being able to touch the ground with my own tire and breath this crisp and thin air. We found our way to step into our dream and make it real.

There was so much of great things that took place during this time; so many adventures, so many stories and feelings. Too bad that the moment I felt I mastered sitting for prolonged amount of time in the frigid cold mountain stream it was time to leave… On my last day sitting there in this shimmering, ever rushing clear and refreshing water, I did not want to get out. The green leaves were basking in the hot sun, pink flowers were standing proudly in the tall grass to the side, some warm rays were hitting my skin while the cold fresh water was rushing and cooling off my body… There was tranquility, peace, harmony and complete lack of time. It was just me and the moment. I love life that way…

I am happy also that I was able to share my experiences with everyone through my reporting during that time. The feedback and all the encouraging was so great to see, thank you all for following my journey and cheering me on throughout! It is always helpful and motivating!

And all those that I met on my trip. Simply I am going to miss you my friends and hope so much to see you again soon…

Special Thanks go to:

City Bikes, Castelli, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, XpedoGarden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, EVOC, Oakley, Pocketfinder, KMC Chains, Rotor Bike Components, K-Edge, Squirt Lube, SelleSMP and for 2017 - Trek and CeramicSpeed

Until next time!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

XTERRA Oak Mountain Pan Am Tour - Pelham, Al


This will be my sixth time making this trip to the beautiful Oak Mountain State Park in Alabama.





I love this place so much that it comes very easily year after a year to put it on my calendar as a must do race. Not only are the trials just perfect, scenery is always spectacularly peaceful, tranquil and fresh. The huge forest and the lake creates the most relaxing atmosphere for the mind and body.



This season is a little different however and to be honest I did question myself if I should have come. With the lack of XTERRA races locally and most of them gone from the US calendar it’s very hard to stay motivated and keep chiseling away day in and day out hard trainings for a year just to show up for only one major race in the region in a season. We used to have the whole American Series with a few regional championship races especially prepped for Pros but much of the importance for the amateurs alike. Now everyone is left with no choice but to attend only the maximum of two races in the whole country, one right here in Alabama and the only other one at almost 11 thousand feet of elevation in Colorado. So, this year became hard already, tough in that scenario as well as the whole country decided to join this race just because they have no choice if they need to compete for any point standings and have even the slightest chance for an overall standing. Not that many amateurs or Pro racers can afford to travel to other countries to compete and collect more points and have more races under their belt. It takes more time and effort to travel aboard. There are some smaller races regionally but even those are hours and hours away from us South Floridians, so yes it became really hard even for the most dedicated of us and committed to the sport.



So, with the lack of racing in triathlon and more of the laid-back preparation that I am not used to, ready or not we traveled to Alabama once again.

The drive was long but we broke it up and left after work and drove more than half way through. The following day the remainder of the trip and almost straight to the trails to pre-ride my bellowed Bama bike course.



It was going to be a hot weekend and it was quite steamy at Oak Mountain. We biked in the mid-day heat and luckily for us most of the course is located under the dense foliage of this humongous forest.

The practice ride was pretty good and I found out quickly why I love riding here so much. There is just the ample amount of the fast and flowy single track all over the mountain with more or less technical sections. All of them however bring so much joy to someone who rides on the daily basis only a few mile-long loops on a constant repeat.

This year’s course was longer and included a new smooth trails, the Centipede and Jekyll and Hyde and the Johnson’s mountain was taken out. It did come close to 21.8 miles which I expected to take less time as the regular course since those two new sections had no technicality to them whatsoever, but rather were just super-fast, roller coaster style of joy riding. I must say I missed the Johnson’s mountain which I found more challenging and much better suited and much worthy for the race.

The next day got even hotter and temperatures got even higher and it supposed to reach the mid-90s.


We did our lake swim for practice and with just wearing a basic bikini there was feeling very comfortable and warm. There were just some cooler spots in the lake but everyone knew for fact that race will be without wetsuits.



On the race morning, I almost didn’t bring my wetsuit to the race site and at the last minute kept it along with my speed suit just so it’s there. It was pretty amazing to find out when setting up my transition space that after taking the temperature of the water we will be wetsuit legal. Oh dear, those were very good news for me especially with my little too relaxed swim training recently but I knew that we were going to cook in them and we will cook some more on the rest of the race.
 


I have to admit I was nervous, it’s always so much more difficult to come to a race with a really long break in between. Everything seems just a bit overwhelming and possibly intimidating. I did not have a good night sleep because of it and as always wondered why I am doing it to myself that it supposed to be fun and not that. But the truth is that there is no one without the other and everyone is experiencing some sort of pre-race jitters and has possible doubts. The race is the place to see where we stand and how we compare to others. I did not have huge expectations for the swim or the run but was hoping for a good bike split.



All in all, I found myself on the Oak Tree Lake shore standing almost waste deep in the brownish stirred up water by hundreds of racers and I got 30 seconds to go time. I could not believe it was happening again. My mantra for the swim was to stay “cool as a cucumber”, I knew I will have to put lots of effort to manage my open water anxiety. The less I race the more likely it is to take place and I am so very glad I was able to override my fears and dislikes and just focus on this damn yellow buoy far-far away in the horizon. I turned myself quickly off the race start onto auto pilot the moment I realized I did soldiered through the toughest part which is always the first 200 meters with a massive wave start. Someone did try to swim over me but I could care less, I just slightly moved to the side and I was fine, still focused and I didn’t want to even think where I was and why, I allowed my body to do what it learned in the pool practice and let it be. My mind drifted a million times in a million different places and it was a good thing for me. The stretch to the first buoy was really far and I had to focus a little more approaching it since all the traffic was heading now to this little space. Last thing you want to do on the buoy is to get pulled, pushed down and hit but this time it all went pretty well, the next buoy was very near and after that was left the long swim along the lake shore to the far away start/finish shoot. My arms felt tired on this lap, more than I would like them to be, I wondered how I was going to manage my effort through the second lap.

The quick grass shuffle was barley enough to shake off my arms and grab a few deep breaths and ready or not I had to get back in. I was swimming again and did not even bother thinking how far the buoy was. The difference on this lap was that people were more scattered all around so it was in a way more chaotic, I let my mind drift once again but at the same time I had to start thinking slowly about my transition and biking. This time around my arms felt much lighter but I felt like my heart was doing lots of work, it was not an easy peasy swim for sure, and soon after I started to feel the heat. Now I was uncomfortable thinking that if I’m overheating now in the water and I am so warned out, how tough it was going to feel on the bike and then run in this muggy and steamy hot conditions.




Glad to be over with the swim finally and I hoped on the bike. There was short road stretch to organize yourself on the bike, put gloves on and so on and soon after I jumped into the single track, and in instant I had to be ready to start my passes. In the matter of minutes not only did I realized it’s going to be a long journey having to have to go through whole groups of people ahead covering the single track as well as I felt how difficult was to bike while already exhausted from spending a half of an hour in the water. By the way our swim instead of 1 mile which equals 1.5 km happened to be 1.9 km long!



I was drenched wet, burning hot, huffing and puffing and trying to convince riders to let me go by. Some were better at it than others, some ladies were super nice and gave me some room, others could care less. I was progressing forward and really being in my zone however, I felt that in almost every single crucial section there was a person or a few who did not progress through the trail as fast as I would like to and therefore slowed me down on stuff that I could really fly on. There were a few riders that looked like they did not belong, they were hardy moving on the sections that were meant to be fast! I was a little shocked and had no slightest clue how they got in front of me I think I will have this visual of the guy in yellow going so slow in the single track after the cabin that it felt like the 16 mph that was required here was bogged down by him to the 2-mph pace. Thankfully I went around but it was not instant. The girl on the rock garden almost completely stopped looking on a little wooden bridge. I had to keep them going and telling them to keep pedaling and moving forward until I could finally safely pass. Man, that was rough. In the meantime, I started having a back and forth battle with one of my competition females. She would catch me up on the little climbs and I would have to go by her on all the technical sections and descents. Those are the mountain climbers! Ha ha. So, I told her “Listen, you are faster on the climbs I am on the descents, let’s make it work”, I just hated being blocked on the fast stuff.



Eventually she realized the facts and followed along. Well until the jeep road over 3-mile climb while her and some other girl just charged by me. I saw my Pax here at the only one on the bike feed zone (geez don’t miss that!) when he poured some awesome bottle of ice water down my back. It was so refreshing and much needed. I tried to keep an eye on the girl in color who went back and forth with me before, but the one that just went by me in the blue outfit was simply gone. The climb kept getting steeper and rockier, it was much more worn out and eroded than usual and made things a little more challenging. I kept the girl in color in sight and was not so far back throughout most of the climb. Happily, first time ever I could race here without having to change my chainring, the SRAM Eagle system was just perfectly edging on the lowest gear that would need only for the few steepest parts, therefore the Floridian set up worked perfectly. And there were only three times that I remember that I actually dropped my gear that low and exactly when I did that I was on the very steep climb under the fallen boulder and right before the bridge when I was catching up to a few other male riders. Since it got here a little bit busy after the horizon became a little bit clearer and I could see another few riders further up ahead I realized my girl in color was also gone. I charged and charged and finally got to the top of the mountain into the fast descent and a few long and sandy rollers. Right before the last uphill I went by another set of guys and went to a bumpy descent, it didn’t take long for one of the men to jet by me on this rugged terrain and start getting away on another fast stretch right before blood rock. I tried to keep up and eventually was able to catch him. Right before getting into the narrow and rock covered single track that proceeded the blood rock I asked the guy if he knows how to clear blood rock cleanly and he looked at me and said that he never rode it. Man, it didn’t take me even a split second to just go by him and he at the same time just realized it would be better if I went first. We started flying through it and when we were approaching more rocky parts toward the end we stumbled upon a rider on a fat bike! WTH, what is this guy doing in front of me, I had no idea, each time there was a little rock he would slow down big time and roll over it gently. I asked him three separate times to make space and let us go by but his ego sadly stood in his way and unfortunately in ours as well. The constant trees on the side and really no other way around and him not cooperating was just not working out. I was hoping that the last turn right before the descending down to actual blood rock trail he would let me go, but he just hit his brakes instead before a little root step down and started rolling into the trail. I yelled at him why he would not let me go and he just said I should have passed if I wanted to and he just kept on talking and riding like a snail barley going over the smallest rocks and little drops, it was actually pretty scary to go so slow through that. Man, I told him to just stay quiet and focus on the trail and riding. The man didn’t get that far however, soon after he saw the first rock drop he hit his brakes hard, stopped right in the middle and started unclipping, I was right on his feet and useless fat wheel. I was so angry, at no speed and nowhere to go I had no other choice than to dismount, run around him and run the whole section down. It was the saddest thing ever wasting all this time and knowing I could have ridden all of that and have been much further by now.


The rider behind me proceeded as well and soon we hoped on the bikes and went to the next fast section. It was the speediest part of the course where you really have to watch yourself since the big boulders and rock over rollers are filling out the path and are scattered randomly all over. It’s very easy to make a mistake at those speeds on such a technical descent or just fly off to the side. So however instead of finishing the trail and going across the road to the Johnson’s mountain we were doing a sharp right to go to the new this year Centipede trail. It was pretty smooth and flowy maybe with a few rocks here and there, pretty easy and I guess good leisure and fun trail. This is when I caught up quickly to my girl in color and soon after I made a clear pass, I knew that since there was nothing to it and not much to worry about here I could fly like the wind on this trail and I kept gaining positions. Soon I got to the Jekyll and Hyde trail which was even more flowy and even smoother but for sure more fun. There was more speed involved and rollers were just straight from a theme park, race or not I did throw a few yippies here and there it was so much fun. The rider that hung on my tail however really wanted to pass since he said it was his type of terrain and he really didn’t like the rocks that we had before. So, I let him go, but like I should have known from the past things are not always unfolding as people present them, so even though he rode fast I had to nudge him quite a few times to pick up the pace. Now I wonder how much faster I would have gone if I didn’t let him go but at the same time maybe he actually kept me safe from overcooking some of those rollers. Either way to my complete surprise almost toward the end we caught up to the girl in blue. It was a long time since I saw her last and we were on her tail in zero time. Now I was trying to just figure out how to get by both of them. The male rider soon realizing I was really in need to pass and he was not getting away from me anytime soon finally let me by, well better later than never.


Now I had her ahead, I looked a few times on quick opportunities but she didn’t look like she would be easy to let go and cooperate. Interesting how this all works but just seconds later we got to the total 180-degree sharp turn and all I can see is this slow-mo movie playing ahead of me… All of a sudden, her bike slides across the turn toward the right pretty much taking most of the trail, her body somehow manages to go over the bars and lean toward the left and downhill section of the trail. She is in this weird fetal position and for the longest time just kind of standing on her helmet doing like a perfect but weird yoga pose. I yelled “you are doing a headstand” I counted in my head, 1, 2, 3 and she was still standing, finally soon her body tipped over and she rolled over. This time I was able to barley squeeze by her and asked if she was OK. When I finished my turn, I looked back and she was getting up and getting on her bike. Apparently, she was OK, just seconds later we were crossing the road and returning on the rest of original race course, the Family Trail and right after Rattlesnake.

This is where I saw my Pax once again and he heard the crash that happened before. I was now ahead and having pretty good speed and flow and felt really good. I knew that I had to keep it strong here since we got way too much rest on the previous sections and now the final 4 miles are going to be deciding how much time I will have ahead on the run, I knew I need as much as possible, all that I could get. Even though this section can be pretty monotonic I think I stayed composed and focused enough. I actually for a change enjoyed some parts and had a good time. At one point I looked at my Garmin and all I could see is battery low, so I didn’t know exact milege to the finish but I knew it was very near, probably less than 2 miles. This is also when I started hearing some bike noise behind me that was getting closer and closer, I truly hoped it was one of the men that rode with me before. When I looked back to my surprise it was the very driven girl in blue once again and somehow she managed to catch up with me. In this order, we jumped off the single track to the fast double track along the lake and through the creek onto the road and to the transition.

She was right on my wheels and soon after was on my heels. When I hit the pavement in the full sun and the heat of the day my legs were barley moving. I was hoping the little downward section would help after the initial up but it didn’t bring much of relief. I felt like a snail trapped in running shoes. Just before hitting the rolling single track I got passed by three women, I had nothing to give to respond and with time instead of improving I started to feel worst. It was almost the Maui from few years back agony, this awful pain in my chest and abdominal area. I had no clue what it was but I felt really bad and I could not speed up even if I wanted to and to add to it I felt lightheaded. I was just wondering how I was going to get to the next feed zone so if I was going to pass out there would be someone to help.

I kept on moving but just kept slowing down, in a normal scenario I would be already in my red racing zone, now I was just trying to survive. I somehow managed to get through the first lap and things did improve. My pace was just ridiculously slow and I felt it was more than my recent lack of running that contributed to it. I was cruising now into the second lap and sun seemed to haunt me each time I hit the pavement or the over the dam gravel stretch. I knew how bad the second lap would feel and thankfully the pain was gone but the legs were not turning any quicker and I was too tired to force myself to pick up. So, I rolled through the hills with the sense of defeat especially after another set of ladies went by me and I could not even entertain the idea to try to stay with them. All my work on the bike went to garbage in those really painful 6 miles. I thought to myself how hard this sport is and how iron clad all those athletes have to be to compete here since it’s so much pain and agony. You are fighting against the demons of your own being and keep punishing yourself and are not willing to stop or give up. We push our bodies to the point where there is nothing more that can be done, where we reach the complete limits. After the bigger climbs on the other side of the lake I had one log over and this made me almost pass out, who would thing going over the log can push you over the edge and be so exhausting, but it was. The last turn over the wooden bridge and I approached the last feed zone just a quarter mile from the lakeside finish. But I looked to the left and there was the girl that passed me not long ago, she was held by her wide stretched arms by two volunteers and her head was collapsing and her legs were going soft. She could not stand any longer on her own and was passing out from heat exhaustion. She was that close… I ran on the edge of the lake and had people cheering for me with one of them being Emma Garrard and soon after today’s winner Josiah Middaugh and his brother Yaro Middaugh and besides my not so great performance I got a huge high five soon before making my last turn into the finish shoot.


I raced way longer than I am used to racing on this course, to be exact by a whole 24 minutes. The longer swim, longer bike, hot conditions and my unpreparedness contributed to that result.

I still placed 5th in a strong field but I knew I’m more than capable of delivering a better result. Improvising a race might work at times but the harder the conditions and stronger competition, the less chances of actually getting away with it.

The time we spent with all our friends and fellow racers were special, fun and emotional. It was so good to see so many familiar and long not seen faces and find out how their and where their lives are taking them. I looked at every single person I know and truly adore and thought that I don’t know how many times we will be seeing each other again and if I will be back here again. Thinking of moving on is one thing but actually doing it is other. I still don’t know if I made up my mind what should take place next.

All I can say is I’m very grateful once again for this experience and opportunity to be exposed to the top level racing in an off-road triathlon. To be with friends who not only are the top racers in the country and the world but also are the youngest, the oldest, the most inspiring and super fun characters. All those incredible people see what I see in this tough sport and hang in there very strongly for that particular reason, to stay connected to those that are so different but also so alike like themselves.



I was so happy to see Emma being back racing, to see Suzie racing strong. Catch up with talented Katharine, always super fun Debbie and always focused Caroline. It was pleasure to see Liz Grubber become so strong and make it to top 4 in Pro.



After the racing was over the XTERRA racers and the crew traditionally met up in the Margaritaville for an after party. It was awesome to catch up so many of amazing athletes there, including Josiah, Casey Fanning, Will Kasey and his wife, Marcus, Keith with his girlfriend and Lesley Paterson. It was a really cool evening and it was sad to leave.



But myself and Pax had additional fun stored that day for ourselves and after the racing and organizing we decided to go for an awesome bike ride. We had Jim chauffeur us around to the top of the Oak Mountain and we biked down the red trail bypassing blood rock and going down all the way to the Thunder Trail. The views by the way were spectacular but the clouds were already everywhere and there was the light drizzle and we could hear some thunder far away. By the time me and Pax finally got a few miles later to the Thunder Trail the rain started to pick up, very soon just slightly moist rocks started to become plain wet, it was getting rainier and rainier by the second and the trail was filled with small rock gardens all over. It started to get darker and darker soon we were in an almost complete darkness and full-blown rain. Also, the area got extreme flood warnings for this exact time. It was quite coincidental that we were riding the Thunder and Lightning Trail in the worst thunder and lightning storm and rain. Now it was so tough to navigate over the rocks but we did actually really very well with that and it was hard to see anything, the glasses were fogging and the darkness was just getting deeper. The lower we got on the thunder the more lightning strikes started to hit all around us, initially there were on the other side of the mountain, but now there were directly hitting where we were. It was tough but we had no choice but keep calm and keep descending. Losing cool now would not make anything better so I tried to enjoy our journey the way it was unfolding. I found it a great challenge to maneuver over technical terrain in those rough conditions and overall it was pretty fun. Finally, we got to the Lightning trail and oh boy, it was so fast, so steep so holly cow incredible. I did not care we were now jetting through streams of water, I was yelling out loud of joy, it was such a thrill to ride those sick descents, I was happy to hear that my Pax also had a pretty good time besides the adverse conditions we were in. In dry it would have been much faster, even more fun and way safer. When we hit the bottom, we got spilled on to the rock garden trail which was part of the race course. Everything was a flowing water now and the thunder was hitting left and right. It was really scary and there was no safe place here being surrounded but zillions of trees and riding in the deep standing water, so the only goal was now to just get out of here. When we finally spilled out to the open road it was completely white, the rain was so thick and was going sideways, the whole forest flooded in this very short amount of time. We jetted under one of the pavilions and waited there for Jim to pick us up while the lightning just kept swirling all around us…



It was another of ours little dangerous adventures but I felt like it was very refreshing and bonding at the same time. I’m very happy we got to do it together and create this thrilling and amazing memories…

Huge Thanks to all my sponsors and new ones for 2017

City Bikes, Castelli, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, XpedoGarden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, EVOC, Oakley, Pocketfinder, KMC Chains, Rotor Bike Components, K-Edge, Squirt Lube, SelleSMP and for 2017 - Trek and CeramicSpeed